How to Collect Better: The Value of Focus and Control

1998 Donruss Elite Master CraftsmanI could just sum this article up by saying that not having a focus or exercising control is the perfect recipe for having an uninteresting collection and going broke quickly. I could; I truly could do that. But I’ll leave the microblogging to Twitter and dig a little deeper into why these two factors are so darn important in this hobby of gnarled variety known as baseball (or other sport) card collecting. Here are a few tips for collecting better by having focus and control:

Financial Savings: This is the obvious first choice in this list. The more focused you are, the less you will spend. That’s a given but it requires rigorous and committed control. If you like a certain something i.e., player, team, era, etc., stick to it and do everything you can not to deviate from said focus, at least not to any significant degree. Don’t even buy it if it’s a good deal; you’re just spending money where you don’t need to and that stuff adds up. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with side projects, (I have a few myself) but be frugal with how you interact with them. Okay, okay, so the cost savings piece is all relative, sure. The degree of significance one places on this strategy is directly related to how much discretionary income one has. The more money I have, the more open I am to spending on stuff I don’t really need and/or isn’t related to my primary focus. But what if, even if you had more money than you needed, you still remained rigorously committed to collecting within the strict confines of your specific collecting focus? Think about how interesting and impressive your collection would be. Take my collection for example, I collect Frank Thomas (HOF 2014). I dabble in various mini-projects outside of my main focus but it’s minimal and I’m selective as hell which means I buy non-Thomas stuff pretty infrequently. I even have a set of rules I follow for how I collect non-Thomas items, which includes when I buy and how much I’m willing to pay for stuff. This also means that I spend less on stuff not associated with my primary collection, which also means I have more money to put toward my primary collection. Translation: Rigorous Focus = Cost Savings.

Subcategories: It’s pretty much understood that if you collect anything specific, the variety is virtually limitless. For example, say you collect cards from a specific team. There wouldn’t be any end in sight and here’s why: Cards can be found from countless sets (base, subset, insert, redemption, regional, etc.) dating as far back as the 1800s (depending on the team) all the way up to tomorrow. Also, there’s variety even within this category. Say you find an in-person signed card of a player on your team, you gotta have it right? So what, are you gonna re-buy every single card again because it’s been signed? And what about all of the parallels from the 1990s? Gotta get those too. Graded versions? Yep, check, gotta get ’em. The question then becomes, how much space will you need to house all of this stuff? This can get pretty hairy pretty fast. Solution: Pick a focus within a focus. We’ll call this a subcategory. For example, if you collect a team, pick an era to collect that team i.e., 1952-1974 etc. Go even further and collect only signed cards from this era, or graded cards PSA 5 or higher. Even further, Hall of Famers only. It’s up to you but this will allow you to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It will be fun and there’s plenty to collect without feeling buried. Translation: Subcategories = Manageable and Realistic.

1987 Topps TiffanySide Projects: This is risky business but it doesn’t have to be. This is for collectors that like to deviate from time to time to change it up and keep things interesting. But it’s also for those collectors that exercise control, which is paramount to collecting. Aside from Frank Thomas, I collect a few very specific 1990s insert sets and graded rookies of players I collected when I was kid. I work on these projects very rarely and only when the price is right and my budget allows it. These are projects I work on casually and with very little degree of commitment. You might say, progress is made only serendipitously. For example, back in fall of 2009, I was at a local hobby shop in search of Thomas cards and while I was there came across a PSA 10 copy of the 1987 Topps Tiffany Wally Joyner. The price was just a few bucks and I had been considering picking up high grade rookies of fan favorites from my youth and this card fit the bill exactly. So I bought it! I never once ran an eBay query for this card previous to this acquisition and haven’t picked up another Joyner rookie since (not to say I won’t). Enjoy a side project but do it with significantly less commitment than your primary focus. The reason for this is that the money you spend on the side project could be better spent on your primary. Translation: Side Project = Fun without Distraction.

So there you have it; a few things to consider to make you a better, more focused collector. Can you think of a strategy not listed here? Share it in the comments section.

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